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california-pallet-craft-xx Wood Selection for Custom Projects

Wood Selection for Custom Projects has LOTS of options when it comes to wood selection for custom projects, today we’ll review just some of the choices you may have, depending on what you wish for us to build for you and their costs vs benefits.

I’ve taken the liberty of including photos and videos of me working on the wood to help you along your decision-making process, hopefully by the time you watched and read all the information here, you have a more thorough understanding of why we suggest A over B for some projects.

Wood Selection using Budget: Cheap

It might sound counter-intuitive but sometimes what you think of as “cheap” or “free wood” such as pallet wood for, is actually quite expensive by the time it’s fixed-up and refined.

Why is that? Because it needs to be broken down, nails removed, planed, sanded and finished and each one of those steps takes time (which is money).

This is why you often see furniture made out of pallet wood costing A LOT OF MONEY, the boards are not in the best of shape, which does add a wonderful esthetic to the finished piece but what you don’t see are all the rejected boards due to splits, pits and stains.

Another options when it comes to cheap that actually IS cheap to work from is MDF.

It’s consistent, has no grain or anything “special” about it and is quite heavy but MDF is “fragile” and needs to be painted to look nice.

I use it quite a bit here in the shop to make things that need to be strong (design is important to achieve this!) and you must also know the limits and direction of the plies to make something that’s good.

For all intensive purposes, think of MDF as glorified cardboard, while pallet wood is REAL wood but that’s been bashed, stabbed, knocked and compressed randomly.

Wood Selection using Budget: Expensive

Now we’ll go to the other end of the spectrum, the expensive stuff.

Generally, the heavier and more dense the material, the more expensive it is, that’s why some people really like MDF because it’s heavy and when painted, feels expensive while it’s actually the cheapest stuff on the market and by extension, incredibly easy to work with.

Another thing I’ve noticed through the years is that sometimes the expensive stuff really isn’t worth using for an application, for instance, you go EXPENSIVE because you want to see the wood, you don’t paint it.

There are also ways around going expensive by going with a less dense wood and staining it.

For instance, Pine can be easily stained to look like Cherry, for any woodworker out there, they’ll know right away this was done just by the weight and density characteristics but otherwise, it’s a great way to up market a project without going up town on the price of raw materials.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the raw wood material isn’t always you budget killer, it can just as easily be your design too!

For instance, if you have a design that requires lots of cutting, you bet the laser time will be a major portion of the final bill regardless of the material chosen.

In those cases, the design stands out more than anything else, so go with the cheaper wood that’s quicker to cut and work with as doing something this extensive in walnut would 3-4x the price without any really noticeable difference in quality as the design stands so far out.

Wood Selection using Weight: Light VS Heavy

I alluded to this a bit earlier but using a lightweight wood is sometimes preferable to a heavy one.

Walnut is HEAVY while Whitewood is not.

Why does this matter? Because of shipping but also workability of the wood.

You see, the lighter the wood, generally the less dense it is and thus, the faster it engraves and cuts, the faster it sands and the less coats of finish are needed for an optimal result.

We make a lot of custom plaques and corporate awards, more than anything else, you want something that’s heavy but sometimes, the budget doesn’t allow for this or the award is so big, it will be heavy if we use a heavy wood so we go light.

There are so many variables involved with creating that custom piece of awesomeness you are commissioning us to make on your behalf it can be overwhelming.

We can also mix and match different materials, for instance, acrylic is pretty heavy compared to Basswood but combining the two creates the “weight” you’d want for a corporate award while if it’s something to hang on the wall in a cottage, you want it to be as light weight as possible.

By comparison, if you want a custom name badge, using a heavy wood that’s “thin” is the way to go for longevity but for a plaque or sign, you want THICK to have some presence in the room you plan on sticking it into.

Wood Selection using Color: Dark VS Light

When it comes to wood, there are a lot of “surface colors” to choose from and more importantly, if there is engraving, contrasting colors to contend with as well.

Just look at the above video for instance, the Wenge looks AMAZING, it’s incredibly dense and wonderful grain pattern BUT when you laser engrave into it, the engraving is almost the same color as the wood itself. Not the best material for say, a custom wooden name badge.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have poplar which is very light in color and the engraving produced by our laser is light-colored as well (this can be darkened but not too much due to wood density). Again, not the best material for a custom sign is it?

At the other end of the spectrum, you have a beautiful Padauk which provides a very good balance and really stands out, it’s also bloody expensive stuff! Guess what, MDF (the cheap stuff) provides even better contrast! is fine working with whatever spec you have in mind with wood, but keep in mind that at the end of the day, it’s the budget that dictates what direction we take with your custom project more than just about anything else.

If your spec calls for Walnut of mahogany but your budget is for MDF, guess what material we’ll end-up using for your project once the dust settles?

Wood Case Study: Oak Bookmarks

We recently did a project for a wedding that involved lots of custom oak bookmarks, I suggested to the customer that we use Oak as it was within their budget and provided the best strength to size ration for the design we agreed to fabricate for them.

The think to keep in mind with Oak is that it’s a very dense wood, it’s heavy BUT when it’s made relatively thin and small, quite lightweight and has a good feel to it especially after it’s been sanded.

Sure, we could have made them out of whitewood like this wall text but they’d break too easily and not provide the best contrast for the wedding details.

Wood Case Study: MDF Room Dividers

This is where design is important, recently did a bunch of custom room dividers out of, you guessed it, MDF. Why?

Because it was relatively strong after we punched a bunch of holes though it using our CNC laser and was then painted to look like steel. Essentially, you have the “steel look” without the “steel price and weight”.

Sure, we could have made this project out of Pine, there was room in the budget for it, but if something is going to be painted, why bother with the extra expense and MDF is way stronger at the same thickness than Pine could ever be.

Wood Case Study: Wooden Presents

There are endless creative options when it comes to wood, it can be shaped and formed into just about anything from a custom Valentine’s heart…

… to a custom rear bike rack…

… to a custom corporate award and then some…

… the creative options that has means we can make just about anything out of wood to suits most budget and timeline needs.

For instance, maybe you budget doesn’t allow for the more heavy and involved custom corporate award video above but might be fine for the one below. They are both awards!

Wood Case Study: Custom Corporate Award

Yesterday I shipped out a whole wack of custom corporate awards, produced a 3D render of the finished award and we all agreed to using Pine for the project.

Well, after I made the prototype, it just felt too light weight and I told the customer that although their budget didn’t allow for it, I’d make it out of Maple instead.

The nice thing about Maple is that it has the weight of Oak (with price tag to boot!) but the laser contrast of Pine as per original spec. They were happy and of course, so were we with the final result, it’s very similar to the custom cottage wood sign below.

Wood Case Study: Custom Model

Generally when it comes to custom model making, I prefer to use MDF but sometimes, you need a bit more strength than MDF can provide to the small-scale, in that case, I suggest using plywood.

At the end of the day, the environment the final product will be found within will also dictate the best material choice at hand within a given budget.

The nice thing about plywood is that’s its relatively strong, works pretty well with finishing and can take a beating, that’s why I used it for our CNC laser station instead of MDF, I wanted something strong yet not weighing a ton and the finish quality looks fine for the shop.

As you can see, hear and ready, wood selection is a vital ingredient for to establish with you if you are going with wood for your custom project.

There are a lot of options, luckily, we can quickly narrow them down based on your budget, timeline and what you plan on doing with the finished product.

We wouldn’t make a custom corporate award out of MDF anymore than we’d make a custom stencil out of zebrawood so I hope after viewing all this, you have a better understanding of what we do here in the shop and why we suggest what we do when it comes to your custom wooden project.